ST. PAUL (AP) -- David Wildmo, a restaurateur who served as much as 1,400 pounds of walleye each week at his restaurant, died Friday after falling down a staircase at his home here. He was 49.
Wildmo claimed that his St. Paul restaurant, Tavern on Grand, served more walleye every week than any restaurant in the country, and he once hired a public relations firm to confirm it.
His North Woods-style pub on Grand Avenue came to be known as "the restaurant that fed Gorby" after Wildmo persuaded state officials to serve his walleye for lunch to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev during his visit to Minnesota in 1990.
"He called up the governor's office and asked why they were serving Canadian walleye when Minnesota is famous for it," remembered Wildmo's longtime friend Bill Baumgartner.
A portrait of Gorbachev now hangs on the wall of the Tavern, with a caption of him saying, "Order the walleye."
The Tavern's walleye, which is both grilled and fried in a light batter, continues to be a hit 12 years after the restaurant opened.
"Almost everyone I asked in the Twin Cities said the best walleye around was at Tavern on Grand. ... For once, the vox pop had it right," wrote New York Times reporter R. W. Apple Jr. in a May article on fine walleye dining.
Wildmo once bought his walleye from commercial fishermen at Red Lake in northern Minnesota. But the closure of commercial walleye fishing in the state forced him to buy his walleye from Canada.
A native of Bemidji, Wildmo spent much of his career as an executive in businesses from snowmobiles to dry cleaning and gun manufacturing.
His service in the U.S. Army in Germany sparked an appreciation for German and central European cuisine. He opened the Glockenspiel in an old Czech social hall in St. Paul two years ago. The restaurant has won plaudits for its food and old-world design, which Wildmo said he modeled after his favorite German eateries.
Survivors include his wife, Mary; two stepsons; two stepdaughters; his mother; a brother and sister; and two step-grandchildren.
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